It’s not even Halloween yet. Black Friday—the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally when the winter holiday shopping season actually kicks off—is weeks away. All in all, it seems early for retailers to even be launching shopping deals categorized as “early season.” But they’re launching them nonetheless. These deals are not only particularly early, but long-lasting as well.
Each year, the winter holiday shopping season seems to expand, starting earlier and earlier. Still wearing shorts? Who cares. It’s time to buy an inflatable snowman to display on the lawn. Many retailers started rolling out Christmas displays and promotions in September.
Why do seasonal offers keep popping up earlier in the season? Apparently, that’s what a large enough portion of the consumer population seems to want. A National Retail Federation survey notes that 39% of American consumers have already started their holiday shopping—a rise of 2% over last year at this time. According to research firm Deloitte, more than half of consumers (53%) plan to begin holiday shopping before Thanksgiving this year.
An entire Wall Street Journal story is devoted to the particular breed of shopper who—two months prior to Christmas—is already done buying presents for everyone on her list. Shoppers who are done or mostly done before Thanksgiving may be anomalies, but increasingly, consumers seem game to shop for gifts long before they’re given away—and retailers are more than happy to oblige.
At this stage in the game, retailers are beginning to offer seasonal promotions in which the emphasis is on “season.” As in: Rather than rolling out the standard limited-time markdowns on specific items, stores are introducing special promotions that last the entire shopping season. With this approach, the shopper is more inclined to give the store business over and over throughout the coming months, rather than stop in once to scoop up a gift when the item was on sale.
Here are three examples of early season deals from national retailers, all of which stretch over the next couple of months:
Free Shipping from Best Buy. Many retailers will be offering free shipping at some point this holiday season. (For that matter, some retailers, such as L.L. Bean and Zappos have free shipping and free returns year-round.) Giving customers free shipping for a specific week or brief window of time often succeeds in boosting sales while the promotion lasts. Best Buy, by contrast, just announced that it’ll offer free shipping, with no minimum purchase, on all orders placed from November 1 to December 27. The hope is that, instead of using a free shipping promo to attract business for a few days, the longer deal will get shoppers into the habit of purchasing goods from Best Buy without worrying about shipping costs.
10% Back for Toys “R” Us Loyalty Members. Starting this Sunday, and lasting through Christmas Eve, Toys “R” Us loyalty program members will receive 10% back (in the form of store credits) on nearly all purchases at Toys “R” Us. The promotion is a repeat of last year, when the toy retailer boosted membership for its free loyalty program by 2 million customers. The store credits earned through the holiday season won’t be awarded to loyalty members until January—so the promotion obviously hopes to attract shoppers not only in November and December, but early 2012 as well.
Walmart‘s Christmas Price Guarantee. In addition to its reintroduction of layaway—which is itself a strategy for attracting business, and repeat business at that—Walmart has announced a special seasonal price guarantee. From November 1 to December 25, customers are supposed to shop at Walmart and rest easy in the knowledge they’re getting the best price of the season. If they buy at Walmart and later spot the same item at a different store for a cheaper price, Walmart will provide the customer with the price difference. Instead of a cash refund, though, Walmart gives the difference in the form of a Walmart gift card. Why? Largely for the same reason that the price guarantee stretches over an extra-long time span—to increase the chances customers will visit stores multiple times over (and after) the holiday season.
Instead of attracting shoppers who show up for one-time holiday sales and then disappear, Walmart and other retailers are trying to bring in customers who are certain to come back more than once—folks who might be described as loyal, even habitual shoppers.